Thursday, August 15, 2019

Democrats' Sept. 8 fund-raiser features cake walk, garden tour

We'll save you a seat in Joe's Garden. 
Help us celebrate the final days of summer at the Laramie County Democrats Grassroots Coalition’s garden party and cake walk on Sunday, Sept. 8, 1-3 p.m. at Joe’s Garden, 3626 Dover Road, Cheyenne.
Light hors d’ouevres and desserts, as well as iced tea and lemonade, will be served. Attendees are invited to bring a cake to donate to the cake walk. Joe Corrigan will conduct tours of his award-winning garden and give tips for next year’s growing season.
Admission is $15. All proceeds go to local Democratic Party candidates running for office in the 2020 election. Come out Sept. 8 to meet and mingle with your fellow Democrats.
FMI: Mike Shay, 307-241-2903.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

What are pop-up galleries and why do they matter?

My 1,600-word piece on pop-up galleries appears in the summer issue of Artscapes, the magazine of the Wyoming Arts Council. Council staff calls on me occasionally to do some free-lance work for the mag. I worked at the WAC for 25 years so I have some sense of what it takes to put out a statewide publication on a consistent basis. A print publication has appeared in many forms in the WAC's 52-year history. Artscapes is the most recent iteration and the slickest one. In fact, it is what they call in publishing a "slick," featuring a cover in coated stock and lots of color inside, like the fashion and lifestyle mags that still survive in the grocery store check-out aisle.

Pop-up businesses have been around for awhile. A clothing boutique takes over a busy downtown storefront during a summer festival. A toy store takes over a vacated mall space for Christmas. They set up, exist for a few days or a few weeks, and then disappear. It cuts down on the heavy overhead costs of a physical site. This is a real bonus in this day of failing brick-and-mortar stores. A pop-up can generate some visual excitement in a formerly empty space. And it can take advantage of increased traffic brought in by a festival or holiday.

Cheyenne is investing in a pop-up gallery trial run in its downtown. Instead of writing a whole new paragraph, here's a short explanation from my story:
May's exhibit at the Fill the Space Gallery is the first outing in a pop-up pilot program, a collaboration among local artists, the Downtown Development Association, the Cheyenne Artwalk, and Arts Cheyenne. The five-month program will feature a different theme and different artists each month. Steve Knox and his partners hope that this effort not only promotes artists but brings some after-hours life to downtown. Get more info on upcoming pop-ups on the Cheyenne Artwalk and DDA Facebook pages
The article goes on to profile the pop-up project at Cheyenne's Blue Door Arts and the Pop-up Artwalk scheduled each September in Laramie.

Read the rest in the print magazine or on the WAC web site.

Next Cheyenne Artwalk is set for Thursday, Aug. 8, 5-8 p.m.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

When young people say "I don't feel safe here," you know you have a problem

"I don't feel safe here."

This isn't a Baltimorian, besieged in his (Trump's words) "disgusting rat and rodent infested mess" of an apartment building, one possibly owned by his slumlord son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

They aren't the words of a Salvadoran mother, fleeing with her children to an unknown and possibly worse future in The Land of the Free.

Not a Syrian fleeing his country's mess, one caused, in part, by the USA's ham-handed policies in the region.

The quote above comes from a well-educated, young Caucasian gay man who lives in Cheyenne, Wyo. I spoke to him at a recent party. I don't use his name because I do not have his permission and I'm not sure he'd give it to me if I asked. He's soon to be married and then, he and his Air Force husband, will relocate to Larimer County, Colo. That's the Colorado county that neighbors Laramie County, where he lives now and where I live too. The man and his fiance don't venture outside much, not even during our glorious summers, because they feel threatened by their neighbors. I didn't ask him if his neighbors had threatened or done violence to him. I know what he means. The couple's very presence is an affront to their conservative neighbors. And conservatives these days feel free to let their hatreds run wild. Trump and his henchmen loosed the dogs of hate. Now they unleash their venom at Trump rallies ("Send her back!") and daily in cities and towns across America.

In the Obama days, it seemed as if the U.S. was making strides in tolerating "the other." They were those who looked differently than the average white person, those who practiced a religion other than White Evangelical Protestantism (or no religion at all), and LGBTQ Americans. We should have known that just the act of electing an African-American president couldn't dampen hatreds brewing for hundreds of years. The signs were all around us. Trump's Birtherism. Rise in hate crimes. Tea Party rallies. The tilt to the Right by many state legislatures, especially our own. Even the Republican-dominated Congress's efforts to stymie Obama at every turn had racism at its roots.

With Trump, America's worst instincts have been turned loose.

Wyoming's population ages. Politicians wonder why young people, raised in the "western Way of life," nurtured in Wyoming churches and schools, and beneficiaries of full-ride UW Hathaway scholarships, kick it all over for life in crowded cities. Cities on the Rocky Mountain West have benefited from this great migration from Wheatland, Wyo., and Sterling, Colo. Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise, Albuquerque. That's where the jobs are. That's where young people congregate. They may be afraid of losing their job or their house, but they aren't scared of their neighbors who are a rainbow of ethnicities and lifestyles. They live in peace. Learn tolerance at work. They pack up their family and return to Cheyenne during CFD. Amongst the parades and night shows, they hear Rep. Liz Cheney rant about how Native Americans are ruining our "Western way of life." WTF? They read letters to the editor praising Trump's non-racism and cursing liberals. Republican legislators convene at summer meetings and speak about their latest efforts to curb open voting, immigration, LGBT rights, reproductive freedom, etc. Then they ask: "How can we keep our young people in the state."

Stop being assholes. That would be a start. Then, dear legislator, you can go about the task of funding education, alternative energy, community development, arts and culture and all those amenities that make life worth living.

Then, maybe, young people will stay in Wyoming, maybe even move back home from their $500,000 bungalow in Denver's Wash Park or their $2,000-a-month studio apartment near downtown. They won't be afraid. They will be invested in the present and future of their home towns. They will say, "I feel safe here."

Monday, July 15, 2019

1969 moon landing memories linger on the beach and in The House of the One-Eyed Seahorse

I like to think that I was a witness to history during Moon Landing Week in July 1969.

I witnessed the launch from the beach the morning of July 16. The Hartford Avenue beach approach in Daytona is located 62 miles northwest of Cape Canaveral. The Saturn 5, NASA's largest-ever launch vehicle, lit up an already bright morning and its sound waves seemed to ruffle the smooth Atlantic. The rocket arced into the sky and out to sea. It was visible only a few minutes. When it was gone, we went back in the water. Or maybe I was in the water already. I forget, as I saw so many launches during my 14 years in Florida. They merge into one big launch that shows the U.S. commitment to space exploration in the 1960s and into the 1970s. JFK showed the way with his 1961 speech. Congress shoveled money at the program as it took seriously Kennedy's vow of a man on the moon in 1969. An American man on the moon. Take that, Russkis!

It was all about the Cold War. The USSR ambushed us with Sputnik, Laika the Space Dog, and Yuri Gargarin. We fought back with Mercury and Alan Shepard and Gemini and finally Apollo. We won the Space Race with the moon landing. It was important to win something in the mid-60s, since we were losing in Vietnam and young people were lost to their elders and some of our biggest heroes were gunned down by assassins in 1968.

My father was a rocket man. He didn't fly them or test them. But he was a contract specialist with General Electric and later NASA. He worked out deals with suppliers of nuts and bolts and many of the gadgets that went to the moon. He could look at a launch with pride and announce that the big hunk of metal ferrying Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin to the moon was partly his doing. He and thousands of other Americans had worked together to get the U.S. first on the moon.

But all was not well in Rocketland. Workforce cutbacks had started two years earlier. One day, GE honchos told Dad that his services were no longer needed in Florida. He accepted a transfer to Cincinnati where GE was building all kinds of new and wonderful things. He said he would go on alone and the family would join him when school got out in June. Dad didn't like Cincinnati and we couldn't sell our house in Daytona as hundreds were leaving and  it was a buyer's market. This well-educated workforce that had come from New York and Ohio and New England in the fifties and sixties were no longer needed. It hurt Daytona. It was not exactly the Silicon Valley of the 60s. Most jobs were in the service industries that fed the tourist industry. I worked some of those jobs. Busboy, bagboy, laundry pick-up guy for beach motels, worker on a beach float stand. My brother was a gremmie selling suntan lotion by a hotel pool. One of my sisters was a nursing assistant taking care of old people who flocked to Florida's Promised Land. The engineers who made the rockets (and their families) would be missed by local businesses and schools.

But Dad grew tired of city life and found a job with NASA back on Daytona. I was happy because I had just made my high school's basketball squad after a year's worth of practice and visualized a bright future as a power forward.

On the afternoon of July 20 when Apollo 11's Eagle landed near the Sea of Tranquility, I was parked by the Atlantic Ocean with my girlfriend K. The radio news followed the ship's descent which we only partially listened to. When "The Eagle has landed" was announced, we paused our kissing and fondling for several minutes to let history wash over us. It rained heavily and the beach seemed deserted, odd for a July afternoon. Minuscule waves broke on the sandbar 50 yards in front of us. No surfing today. Once the announcers returned to just talking about the landing of the Eagle, we returned to our previous engagement.

I know the exact spot where this happened. When I'm in town, I walk by it and remember that historic afternoon. I see my rusty red Renault Dauphine with the light blue door that replaced the original, sheared off in a hasty back-up from my garage. Two people are inside, at least I think it's two people, as the windows are fogged. The spirit of that day drifts over that spot as does the memories of an eighteen-year-old me. This presence remains at the beach even when I'm back home in Wyoming. It may still be here when 68-year-old me and then (God willing) the 78-or 88-year-old me toddles down the beach, cane poking holes in the soft sand. When I'm gone, will the ethereal presence remain of the radio broadcast and the automobile and the young man and young woman, their thumping hearts and hopes and dreams? I like to think that beachgoers in 2069, parked in the same spot in their futuremobile, will pause their canoodling to listen to the voices of astronauts landing on Mars or orbiting Saturn. Maybe in the background they will hear a faded voice: "The Eagle has landed." 

That night, in The House of the One-Eyed Seahorse, I joined my family to watch Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. The video feed was grainy but I could make out Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin cavorting on the lunar surface. We watched on a TV that struggled to pull in signals via antennae supplemented by a coat hanger and a broken channel changer replaced by vice grips. Nine kids are tough on TVs, even ancient ones that received but three channels. We no longer live there, haven't in a long time. My brothers and sisters and I carry around those memories. Fifty years ago, we were plotting our escape. Now, in quiet times, those memories swirl in our aging heads. They also exist somewhere in the house that almost burnt down in August of '69. We could have lost everyone but for the quick actions of my sister Molly. I was on a date and running late so I salvaged one of the cars, the other one burned to a cinder in the garage where the fire started. My memories would be vastly different as a lone survivor.

This all will be on my mind as I watch film of the July 16 launch and the July 20 walk on the moon and the July 24 splashdown.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Return of the Jackson Hole Art Blog, and other arts news

I was excited to see that Tammy Christel restarted her Jackson Hole Art Blog. Back when I was the communications guy at the Wyoming Arts Council, I borrowed liberally from Tammy's blog. It was chock-full of news about Teton County arts and artists. She teased upcoming events and critiqued exhibits and happenings. She took off a couple years to take care of some family issues. Just yesterday she posted her first JHAB blog. Take time to read it.

Jackson has long been recognized as an arts hotbed in Wyoming and the region. It is the epicenter of Teton County, possibly one of the most picturesque in the country. Home of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, you can't open your eyes without ogling a magnificent view. Naturally, it draws landscape artists  which has enriched the community. It's been a draw for writers, too, and is home to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference every June. Residents include starving artists and conservative gazillionaires. Millions of tourists flock to Teton County for the scenery and hiking and skiing and rock climbing. There are a fair number of liberals in the mix but also conservative cranks such as Dick Cheney and Foster Friess.

This heady mix causes many Wyoming residents to insist that Jackson is not a part of Wyoming, as if it existed in its own universe which, sometimes, it does. Those same critics spend an inordinate amount of time enjoying Jackson and Wilson and Teton Village and the slopes of Jackson Hole Ski Resort. But Jackson can't be denied. It's as much a part of Wyoming as Yellowstone and coal mines and rodeo and wind. And its clout as an aesthetic destination can't be ignored.

Jackson isn't the state's only arts town. You can find out more by regularly perusing the Wyoming Arts Council web site. Many Wyoming communities have their own arts councils. Look up Pinedale Fine Arts Council, Casper's Artcore, Arts Cheyenne, and many others. Look them up on social media. Get involved locally.  Often you find that the arts in smaller communities is spearheaded by one or two residents. That can get mighty lonesome. Volunteer!

And finally, badger your legislators when they are close to home. Remind them that you are a voter who cares deeply about the arts and he/she should too. Be cordial but insistent. However, should that legislator disappoint you with crackpot bills and anti-arts behavior, you might vote for someone else or even run for office. That may sound extreme, but I have worked for more than one candidate who won or lost by fewer than 20 votes. If just 11 of those people had changed their votes, the make-up of our legislature would be different.

Now get out there and appreciate the arts. I am a front desk volunteer at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens this afternoon. Come see me and I will point out the wonderful animal sculptures by Don Ostermiller that are scattered about the grounds. I will also direct you to the art show on the conservatory's second floor. I also may remind you that all of the blooming flowers are nature's works of art. You might even see a plein air artist out in the plein air painting the scenery. I will remind you that tickets are still available for Thursday's Summer Concert Series performance by Jason Burge, the Dauphin of Mississippi who's from Mississippi, once worked at the Wyoming Humanities Council and now lives and works in New Zealand. A very talented singer/songwriter.

See you there.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

The Fourth of July bash at the National Mall will feature lots and lots of Trump and big tanks -- don't forget the tanks!

In February, when Trump announced plans for his grandiose Fourth of July celebration, conservative commentator Bill Kristol responded on Twitter: 
"The last president to try to hijack July 4th was Richard Nixon, who staged Honor America Day on July 4, 1970. It was widely ridiculed. Nixon later left office in disgrace."
What's past is prologue. Trump's "Salute to America Day" on the National Mall will feature Trump (of course), VIP seating, a Soviet-style military parade with lots of hardware (tanks included), and fireworks.

There were lots of fireworks at the July 4, 1970, event, not all of it in the sky. American Nazis attended to protest Vietnam War protesters and the Yippies staging a smoke-in at the Washington Monument. Police tried to maintain a DMZ between the protesters and Silent Majority picnickers. Then that failed, park police fired tear gas at the rowdy hippies and gas clouds drifted over the multitudes. This led, as one reporter wrote, to a "mad stampede of weeping hippies and Middle Americans away from the fumes." At the same time, the U.S. Navy Band played the Star Spangled Banner from the Lincoln Memorial stage.

I was in that mad stampede. I picnicked with my buddy Pat's family. When the fumes reached us, Pat and I scrambled to lead his grandmother and younger sisters to safety. Pat and I had been tear-gassed several times that spring during campus protests of the Kent State killings. It was no fun for young people but could be dangerous for the elderly. We made it out of the gas cloud and, when the hubbub died down, we returned to our picnic. Later, we listened to Honor America Day jokes from Bob Hope and Jeannie C. Riley's version of Merle Haggard's "The Fightin' Side of Me." Then, despite the chaos or maybe because of it, we admired the bitchin' fireworks display. 

Back at Pat's family's house, Pat and I and his brother smoked a joint and remarked on the day's strange happenings. Looking back, I can see that it was a fine snapshot of those confusing times. The next day, I hitched back to Norfolk Naval Base which my buddy Paul, one of my companions on an eight-week midshipmen summer cruise on the John F. Kennedy. On Monday, I called my girlfriend in Florida to say good-bye and she broke up with me because she was tried of saying good-bye to me all of the time. .Here I was, not yet officially in the Navy, and I got a Dear John phone call. I spent the next six weeks sailing the Atlantic and sampling the aircraft carrier's many jobs. And moping, I did a lot of moping. I remember how nonsensical it all seemed. I was 19 and confusion comes with the territory.

So here it is, 49 years later, and I am still confused. Trump is president. He's staging a Nuremberg Rally an our National Mall. As it was with Nixon in 1970, there seems no end to Trump. But Nixon did come to a bad end, as even conservative stalwarts now admit. But the confusion at the National Mall on July 4, 1970, only cemented Nixon's hold on the voters. Hippies interrupting Bob Hope was just too much to bear. America needed a strongman to stem the rising tide of anarchy. So, he cruised to victory in the 1972 election. I was depressed -- I voted for the man from South Dakota, an honorable man, a warrior who wanted to stop the war.

The big question for 2019: when will we see the end of Trump? Think about that as he rants on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Independence Day.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Artists go where the cautious fear to tread

People who open businesses in downtown Cheyenne are cockeyed optimists, to steal a line from Nellie Forbush in "South Pacific."

The failure rate is sobering. Rents are high. The consumer's taste is fickle. Parking is a problem, Cheyenne is just short of the population base needed for a thriving downtown. Sometimes, it's just too damn cold to venture downtown.

And the booming cities of the Colorado Front Range are just down the road.

Still, they persevere. New restaurants are opening in Cheyenne almost as fast as others go out of business. Downtown residences are being built and people explore ways they can live in those second stories that sit empty in almost every building.

Artists are busy occupying empty spaces. I recently wrote an article for Wyofile about artists invading the Hynds Building at Capitol and Lincolnway. See my commentary and get a Wyofile link here. I just wrote an article for WAC Artscapes about pop-up galleries in Cheyenne and Laramie. That appears in the summer issue.

The Hynds is a big block of a building. Its main claim to fame was that it was built by Harry Hynds, an early settler in Cheyenne. It's been empty for decades. Next door is the infamous "Hole." Nothing says downtown redevelopment like a gaping hole on your main drag. Like a black hole, it has threatened to suck the entire downtown into oblivion.

Then came the artists. Still, they persevere.

A group of artists has moved into the Hynds, encouraged by building owner and Cheyenne native David Hatch. Arts @ the Hynds features work by Mitch Guthrie, Mike McIntosh, Kevin Robinett and Greg Fladager. Next door is Blue Doors Arts, a space occupied by Terry Kreuzer and Georgia Rowswell. On the building's east side is Three Crows Gallery & Gifts. This triumvirate gives the Hynds that live/work look, even though the artists don't live in the building. One of the many plans floated for the structure was a live/work facility by ArtSpace, a Minneapolis-based non-profit property manager. ArtSpace promoters envisioned living spaces on the upper floors and a gallery and some retail spaces on the main level. This would liven up this part of downtown. As it is now, the Cheyenne Artwalk is the best time to visit these spaces. It's held the second Thursday of each month.  Get more info at

One of the most interesting downtown exhibits is "The Hidden Language of Horses" at Clay Paper Scissors Gallery, 1513 Carey Ave. Here's a short description:
For the July Artwalk, Clay Paper Scissors will feature artwork that showcases the beauty and utility of horses. A variety of paintings, prints and mixed media will be on display from John Giarrizzo, Mark Ritchie, Lynn Newman, David KlarĂ©n and Eric Lee. The horse represents freedom, energy, strength, endurance, stamina, and power. Don’t miss this creative interpretation of one of our state and nation’s enduring symbols!
Part of Artwalk is Fill the Space Gallery. The 17th Street storefront has been the site, so far, for two versions of a pop-up gallery. Artist and art teacher Steve Knox is the catalyst for this project, supported by a collaboration among local artists, the DDA, the Cheyenne Artwalk, and Arts Cheyenne. Go see the next pop-up during the July 11 Artwalk, 5-8 p.m. Go here for the list of artists.